Go to Borobudur at Sunrise
Join a sunrise tour and go to Borobudur at a Godamm early hour. It's not a crazy idea to wake up at 4am to reach the gates of the monument grounds by 7am. It's too late to catch the sunrise but you'll see the whole place shrouded by a misty forest and have the whole place to yourself before the crazy swarms of tourists arrive at noon.
Available at many tour agent shops along the backpacker's alley, Jalan Prawirotaman. You'll have at least 3 options:
a)Borobudur sunrise (leave at 5.00 AM, USD4, 5 hours)
b)Borobudur sunrise & Prambanan (leave at 5.00 AM, USD8, 8 hours)
c)Borobudur & Chandi Pawon & Mendut (leave at 7.30 AM, USD5, 5 hours)
Most of these tours will not include the entrance fee to Borobodur and Chandis Pawon and Mendut.
Alternatively, you can charter a car to drive you to Borobudur and back to Yogya. It'll cost you around USD8 or so.
Savouring Borobudur Slowly
Borobudur will probably be the highlight of your trip and not a sight which you should miss while in Java. Don't be daft and rush Borobudur with a Dieng tour on the same day. Afterall, you'll pay about USD9 for your entrance fee so why zip in and out like speedy Gonzales? Be prepared to spend at least 3 hours here. 2 hours to look at the bas relief, 1 hour to explore the museums below.
70 bell shaped stupas
70 bell-shaped stupas on the wall, 70 bell-stupas! Touch one Buddha, go around. 69 bell stupas...
Though it's unlikely that any pilgrim will sing my half-witted song on Vesak Day, it is a belief that anyone who reaches inside the bell-shaped stupas in Borobudur temple to touch Buddha's hands will receive good luck. There are 70 of these bell-shaped stupas over here on the top three round concentric terraces, each with a seated Buddha. To make things a little easier for us pesky tourist, the authrities have removed half of the structure so that we can see or touch the statue a bit more easily. So did I touch all 70 of the Buddhas? I didn't. I was mainly stuck at the bottom 6 square concentric terraces which were trimmed with over 1000 Buddhist relief panels.
Where:Borobodur Temple, Java, Indonesia
When: Built by AD830, the peak of the Sailendra dynasty in Central Java, 300 years before Angkor Wat.
Whom: Re-discovered by Sir Stamford Raffles, 1814, 47 years before the re-discovery of Angkor Wat.
Mendut Temple - near Borobodur
As part of the tour, we stopped at another 8th century AD Buddhist temple - Mendut Temple which is 3km away.
The tour guide will shine a mirror which will reflect light into the inside of the temple.
There is an impressive large size Buddha sitting not in the lotus position but with both feet on the ground.
During the holy month of Vesak, Buddhist pilgrims will walk started from Mendut temple, to Pawon and end at Borobudur.
When in Borobudur, it is good to know that there are two major branches of Buddhism, the Mahayana (the Great Wheel( and the Theravada (the Small Wheel).
It is like in Christianity, there is Roman Catholics and Protestants and in Islam, there is Shiite and Sunni.
Without trying to go into religious details, the Borobudur is under Mahayan Buddhism which is practised mainly in China, Korea and Japan and Vietnam. A tantric version covers Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan and Mongolia.
While the other major branch of Theravada Buddhism is practised in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.
So when in Borobudur, it is Mhayana Buddhism.
Wall Bass Relief tells the story
Like in Angkor Wat, the bass reliefs of Borobudur has been painstakenlhy documented and restored panel by panel. There is a reported of over 2600 individual panels.
So it is impossible to spend too much time on each panel. Just take a sampling and enjoy the moment. No point taking a picture of every panel either, you can buy a book.
Thanks to UNESCO restoration funds and know-how together with the Indonesian Government, extensive work between 1975 to 1982 has fortunately ensured the integrity of the entire structural of the monument with enforced foundation and internal drainage.
Climbing up the steps
Take caution when climbing up the steps of Borobudur especially when it rains.
The height of the temple is 35 meter. The foundation of entire monument is a square of 115 meter and from the top view looks like a Buddhist mantra symbol.
The entire structure is built from stone and thus explained how it has survived since it was built around 800 AD during the Sailendra empire when Buddhism was at the height of influence in Java.
The monument was lost and rediscovered when Java was under British Administration in 1814 under the direction of Sir Stamford Raffles (later founder of Modern Singapore), the Dutch engineer H.C. Cornelius rediscovered this legendary monument.
Going round each terrace level
The entire monument can be divided into 3 levels - the foot, the body and the head. Each level have several terraces.
Our tour guide took us in the counter-clockwise direction which tell the story of Buddha (Siddharta Gautama) from his birth to his leaving of his sheltered life as a prince, to meeting the sick and poor outside the palace ground and to enlightenment under the bayan tree.
As you go from the lower level to the higher level, you are following the path of Buddhist pilgrim of journeying from worldly desires to the cycles of life and death and towards englightentment (Nirvana).
When Sir Thomas Raffles, the British govenor of Indonesia, first happened upon this temple
it was buried deep in the forest. He was unable to determine the exact date that Borobudur
was built but from the detailed carvings, Raffles concluded that it was built between the 8th and 10th century.
No one knows what happened to the culture that built the monument. What ever happened to them, they left Borobudur behind, its meaning lost in time.
Today it is in more of a carnival atmosphere with all of the tents, vendors, and touts.
Once you make it to the steps leading to the temple they are not allowed and you can admire this wonder in peace.
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- Religious Travel
Statues of Buddha
Buddha was born in India in the 6th century. At the age of twenty-nine, he renounced riches to become a monk and lead a life of meditation.
Borobudur is a place of pilgrimage rather than worship, a training center for those wishing to reach enlightenment.
Originally, there were over 500 statues of Buddha. In 1896, the dutch gave the Kind of Siam eight wagon loads of statues and bas reliefs, including five of the best Buddhas.
- Arts and Culture
- Religious Travel
Over 500 Buddha Statues
It is reported that there are over 500 Buddha Statues in Borobudur. However, only about 200 are restored with many missing, stolen or unaccounted for.
For a Buddha statue sitting in the lotus formation, the facial feature and the upturned or down-turned palm and positions of the thumb and fingers signify different symbols.
Our tour guide also explained that there are 5 different group of Buddha statues covering the five cardinal directions of north, east, south, west and zenith.
So if you must, also buy a replica of a Buddha statue and never a stolen original or decapitated head.
Stupas at the top
At the top of Borobudur, you see many stupa which are perforated.
Each stupa may contain Buddha statue/s and/or holy items.
Our tour guide told us that at one of the stupa, if we could reach inside and touched one of the fingers of the Buddha, it would bring good luck and fortune. A few tried but it was not to be reached.
Another one of tourist guide gimmick to add some excitement into the tour. Don't fall for it.
Walk clockwise around Borobudur
One, two, three o'clock, four o'clock, rock!
Five, six, seven o'clock, eight o'clock, rock!
Nine, ten, eleven o'clock, twelve o'clock, rock!
It's strange but I was thinking of this Bill Haley classic when someone mentioned that I should walk clockwise around Borobudur, one terrace at a time, starting at the bottom to look at 1000 bas relief of Buddha's life. I tried for a while but my attention-deficit nature will not permit me to do that. I thought of the devout Buddhist pilgrims and I had no doubts those fellas will have no problem doing just that on Vesak Day and attaining Nirvana as they reach to the top.
Getting there from Yogyakarta
The easiest way to get to Borobudur is joined a package guided tour from Yogyakarta that will drive you almost 45 km in the north westerly direction into Central Java.
It took over an hour to get there and so have to start early in the morning to get there and climb this monument while it is not too hot. The gates are open at 6am.
As the nearest town Magelang does not provide much international accommodation, it is best to return to Yogyakarta or to Surakata (Solo) after your trip.
Outstanding view at the top
When you are the top of Borobudur, you will see as far the eyes can see.
Borobudur is located in the Kedu plain of rice fields with the distant towering volcanoes around it, Gunung Sumbing, Gunung Sundoro and Gunung Merapi and Gunung Merbabu.
Ask your tour guide to help you identify which volcanoes are visible. The view is inspiring and worth the climb.
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